2022 Detroit Lions Team Outlook
With high-stakes fantasy football legend Shawn Childs anchoring Sports Illustrated's fantasy coverage, we decided to give our take on Shawn's Team Outlooks. While we won't always agree, Shawn's pedigree speaks for itself. Shawn has been a high-stakes Fantasy Football legend since 2004 when he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). Childs has competed and won six-figures in all different formats – auctions, draft championships, main events, and high-dollar leagues. We dare you to find an expert who knows the NFL player pool better than Shawn Childs -- it can't be done!
The Detroit Lions finished last in the NFC North over the past four seasons with a 17-36-2 record. Despite the appearance of a bottom-tier offense, the Lions have some exciting players entering 2022. RB D'Andre Swift has the potential to be one of the top receiving backs in the league while offering explosiveness and scoring in the run game. WR Amon-Ra St. Brown developed into a high-volume beast late last season, and follow-through should be expected this season. In addition, the combination of WR DJ Chark and WR Jameson Williams improves Detroit's deep passing game. TE T.J. Hockenson is a developing edge, leaving the ceiling of this offense in the hands of QB Jared Goff.
Game scored led to the Lions throwing the ball 58.1% of the time last season. They have depth across the board at the receiver positions, but Detroit needs to run the ball better to control the clock.
After the Lions' coaching staff changed before 2020, the running back position has been more active in the passing game in back-to-back years. They received 27.8% of the team's completions last year, leading three-year highs in catches (110), receiving yards (760), and targets (136). Their running backs gained 2,540 combined yards with 15 scores on 517 touches.
The Lions' wide receivers finished in a tight range in catches (200, 202, and 205) and targets (330, 315, and 315) over the previous three seasons. Unfortunately, their wideouts had a sharp regression in receiving yards and touchdowns over this span. In 2022, I expect an improvement in all areas.
A late-season injury to T.J. Hockenson led to a step back in tight end production for the Lions. They gained only 9.6 yards per catch with about 20% of the team's completions. However, Detriot has improved wide receiver depth plus their running back position commands a high number of targets. Any growth in tight catches in 2022 will come from improvement in Detroit's overall offense.
The Lions signed Dan Campbell as their head coach in 2021 (3-13-1). He worked in the Dolphins system for six seasons before landing in New Orleans in 2016. He split his time over five seasons as their assistant head coach and tight ends coach. Miami gave him a temporary heading coaching job in 2015 (5-7).
Detroit made another change at offensive coordinator in the offseason, leading to the signing of Ben Johnson. Over the previous three seasons, he worked on the Lions' coaching staff as their offensive quality control coach and tight ends coach. Johnson has been coaching in the NFL for 11 seasons while starting the year at age 36.
The Lions ranked 25th in points scored (325), 52 points fewer than in 2020. They also finished 22nd in offensive yards.
Aaron Glenn returns for his second season as Detroit's defensive coordinator. His path through the coaching ranks also came through New Orleans as their defensive back coach over five seasons. He was a player in the league for 15 years before starting his coaching career in 2014 with the Browns.
Detroit improved one notch in points allowed (467 – 31st) while bumping to 29th in yards allowed.
The top four players signed by the Lions in the offseason were S Deshon Elliott, WR D.J. Chark, CB Mike Hughes, and LB Chris Board. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin was their highest-ranked player lost over the winter.
The bulk of the Lions' 2022 draft was dictated to their defense – DE Aidan Hutchinson (1.2), DE Joshua Paschal (2.14), S Kerby Joseph (3.33), LB Malcolm Rodriguez (6.9), DE James Houston (6.39), and CB Chase Lucas (7.16). In addition, they added WR Jameson Williams with the 12th pick in the first round and TE James Mitchell in the fifth round.
Detroit climbed to 18th in rushing yards (1,886) while averaging 25.1 rushing attempts per game. They gained 4.4 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns and 12 runs over 20 yards.
The Lions slipped to 19th in passing yards (3,884) with 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Detroit gained only 6.5 yards per pass attempt with 49 catches over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 36 sacks.
LT Taylor Decker missed eight games last year with a foot injury. When on the field, he excelled in pass protection with some help in run blocking. C Frank Ragnow is a second edge on Detroit's offensive line, but a toe issue cost him 13 games. He projects to be an edge in all areas. RT Penei Sewell played well last year despite some struggles when asked to play left tackle. By midseason, he offered a high floor in run blocking with an edge in pass blocking.
This offensive line has three star players, two of which missed much of 2021. The guard position is a work in progress. Overall, Detroit should run the ball better this year, and their line is trending to a top 10 ranking.
The Lions repeated their 28th ranking in rushing yards allowed (2,296) with 19 touchdowns and seven runs over 20 yards. Runners gained 4.4 yards per rush while averaging 30.5 rushers per game.
Detroit bumped to 24th in passing yards allowed (4,160) with 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Their defense finished with only 30 sacks while allowing 56 catches over 20 yards.
Not one starting player graded highly on the Lions' defense in 2021. Their top young CB Jeff Okudah missed 23 games over his first two seasons after getting drafted third overall in 2020. This year, he must stay on the field and play up to his potential. Their secondary has a lot to prove. CB Tracy Walker finished with 108 tackles, leading to Detroit signing him to a three-year $25 million contract in March. Derrick Barnes looks to have the highest ceiling at linebacker. Their defensive line has upside at three positions while needing DE Aidan Hutchinson to develop into a stud pass rusher.
This defense has some pieces to push higher up in the rankings. A better offense would help control the clock and lower Detroit's defensive exposure. I expect growth in all areas, giving the Lions a chance to be league-average with matchup value.
QB Jared Goff, DET - Quality Backup
In his first season with the Lions, Goff went 3-10-1 with three missed games with oblique and knee issues. He was on pace for 4,000 combined yards and 23 touchdowns while showing strength in his completion rate (67.2). His weakness came in his yards per pass attempt (6.6), which regressed for the third straight year.
Goff passed for over 300 yards in only one matchup (338/3) in Week 1. Over his final 12 games, he had fewer than 225 passing yards in eight contests.
When at his best with the Rams from 2017 to 2020, Goff went 42-20 with a trip to the Super Bowl in 2018. In 2019, he led the NFL in pass attempts (626).
Fantasy outlook: Based on weapons in the passing game, Goff should throw the ball over 600 times this year. To reach a higher ceiling in passing yards, he needs more length on his completions plus improve tossing touchdowns in the red zone. Goff ranks 27th in the draft early season in the Fantasy Football World Championship. I view him as a top 18 quarterback while on a path for 4,500 combined yards with about 28 scores.
Other options: Tom Boyle, David Blough
RB Jamaal Williams, DET - Fantasy Handcuff
The Lions used Williams 179 times over his 13 games (13.8 per week). He set a career-high in rushing yards (601) while showing weakness in yards per carry (3.9) and yards per catch (6.0). He missed four games with thigh, hip, and Covid-19 issues. Williams posted his best output in Week 1 (110 combined yards with one touchdown and eight catches). Detroit gave him three targets or fewer in 11 of his final 12 matchups while scoring less than 10.00 fantasy points in PPR leagues in nine games.
Fantasy outlook: Williams should get about 12 touches per game, but he will be a challenging starter as an RB2 or flex player in PPR leagues. His role in the passing game has a diminishing ceiling if D'Andre Swift is healthy. Even with a favorable ADP (166) in the early draft season in the FFWC, I would only be interested in drafting him as a handcuff to Swift. Even with a possible starting role at times, the Lions will rotate in a second back. At best, 700 combined yards with short touchdowns and about 25 catches. Williams is one of the best hand-cuff backs in the game but he's a solid enough player to have stand alone value.
RB D'Andre Swift, DET - Stud (low risk)
Over his first two seasons with the Lions, Swift has eight missed games. In 2021, he was on pace for 1,398 yards with nine touchdowns and 81 catches (274.8 fantasy points in PPR leagues). His missed time came from a shoulder injury while also having minimal snaps in Week 12 (three catches for nine yards).
When at his best, Swift gained over 100 combined yards in six matchups. The Lions gave him 19 touches per game over his first 10 starts. Detroit had him over the field for 73% of their plays. His consistency rating comes from his high floor in catches (six games with five catches or more).
Fantasy outlook: The two most important factors to consider when evaluating Swift are the potential improvement of this offense and how this coaching staff used the running back position in New Orleans. With an entire season of games, he has a chance at 300 touches for 1,700 yards with 10 scores and 85 catches or a top-six running back. Swift is the ninth running back drafted in the FFWC in mid-June with an ADFP of 15. I'm buying while understanding his injury risk.
FULLTIME'S TAKE: Swift is a legitimate BREAKOUT CANDIDATE. We could see him finishing as the top back overall in 2022. Draft him with confidence.
RB Jermar Jefferson, --- - Not Draft Worthy
Over three seasons at Oregon State, Jefferson gained 3,222 combined yards with 29 touches and 43 catches. His best season came in 2018 (239/1,380/12 with 25 catches for 147 yards). In 2020, Covid limited his year to six games (133/858/7), which gave him a chance at 1,800 combined yards with 14 touchdowns and 18 catches.
Jefferson has a power running style that works better when seeing daylight at the line of scrimmage. His flow and vision create wins, but dead ends leave him with no escape routes. He needs volume of chances to get his engine warmed up. Jefferson should bring closing value with the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. His pass protection looks ahead of his pass-catching.
He gained 97 combined yards in his rookie season with two touchdowns and four catches on 19 touches. Jefferson missed some development time with an ankle injury.
Fantasy outlook: Jefferson would be the power runner replacement with short-yardage and goal-line value if Jamaal Williams has an injury. He will be found in the free-agent pool in almost all leagues this draft season.
Other Options: Justin Jackson, Craig Reynolds, Godwin Igwebuike, Greg Bell
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, DET - Solid/Safe Pick
My two most critical takes about St. Brown in 2021 were his ability to get open and catch the ball. His role in the Lions' offense was minimal in most of his first 11 games (39/352 on 52 targets). Detroit shifted the bulk of their passing attack to St. Brown over the last six games (10/86/1, 8/73, 8/90/1, 9/91/1, 8/111/1, and 8/109/1) while receiving double-digit targets (67 total) in each contest. He finished with an impressive catch rate (75.6).
St. Brown brings early rhythm to his route running that projects better out of the slot. His release is better than expected, but he does lose value when locked up early by bigger physical defenders. St. Brown doesn't win with his quickness and has subpar long speed. With better technique and more strength, he would offer much more upside.
He played well over 30 games at USC. He caught 178 of his 249 targets for 2,270 yards and 17 touchdowns. His best success came in 2019 (77/1,042/6).
Fantasy outlook: With 150 targets, St. Brown would be on a path to catch 110 passes for 1,100 yards and about seven scores. He finished 22nd in wide receiver scoring (227.30 fantasy points). Despite his impactful run late in the year, his ADP (57) in the FFWC ranked him as the 21st wideout. My projections will rank him as a top 12 wide receiver, and I consider him almost the same player as Keenan Allen while getting drafted two rounds later. St. Brown is an excellent value selection in 2022.
WR D.J. Chark, DET - Sleeper (undervalued)
Coming out of college, Chark had a minimal resume (66/1,351/6) in the receiving game over three seasons.
In 2019, Chark proved to be a value on draft day or a quick waiver wire pickup after his fast start to the year over five games (27/485/5 on 37 targets). Chark flashed in Week 1 (4/146/1) while offering two other impact games (8/164/2 and 8/104/2). However, over his final five starts, he only caught 22 passes for 212 yards with no touchdowns.
After his breakout season (73/1,008/8), Chark struggled to make an impact in seven starts in 2020 (3/16, 1/26, 4/56, 4/41, 2/41, 2/16, and 4/53) while also missing three contests with chest, ankle, and ribs issues. His best play came in two matchups (8/95/2 and 7/146/1). Last year, Chark played well in two of his first three matchups (3/86/1 and 3/49/1), but his season ended in Week 4 with a broken ankle.
Fantasy outlook: Chark gained over 20 yards on 30 of his 133 catches (22.6%) over the past three seasons while scoring 15 times in 32 games. His ADP (147) in the FFWC prices him as the 55th wide receiver drafted in mid-June. He is a viable WR5 in PPR formats with a chance to catch 65 passes for 850 yards with five to seven touchdowns.